🎶Stopped into a church. I passed along the way.🎶
It may surprise you to learn that students at Bethlehem College & Seminary come from all over the country. One of the largest populations of our students comes from California. Adrien and I hit the road the week before last, traveling the west coast all the way from Palm Springs to San Francisco visiting generous givers, parents of current students, and alumni now pastoring in the Golden Bear State. I’ll be protective of donor identities for the obvious reasons, but want to share with you some vignettes of how the spreading of a passion for God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ is flourishing in the most populated state in the nation.
We met with a couple in Palm Springs who used to be part of the body at Bethlehem Baptist Church before moving west to care for aging parents. They are true Christian Hedonists who gladly bear the difficulties associated with such a season of life, even as they plead for healing of an adult daughter battling cancer. They are dear friends of Bethlehem College & Seminary whose lives embody the very “Serious Joy” we seek to multiply. Amidst all that’s before them, they love our students and continue to be faithful benefactors of their scholarships.
What a joy it was to worship with Pastor J. D. Hettema (MDiv ’16), already serving as Connections Pastor at Foothills Church in Glendora, in no small measure because generous givers to the Serious Joy Scholarship enabled him to launch immediately into pastoral ministry without student loan debt. He’s a former Santa Barbara police officer who heard God’s call to ministry, and moved with his wife to chilly Minneapolis to be equipped at Bethlehem College & Seminary. Not only was it great to see J.D. in action, but also to hear his fellow pastor in the pulpit that Sunday speak of how he himself was encouraged during his recent visit to the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders. If that wasn’t enough, the Lead Pastor of the church has a son enrolled in the college here.
Eric Tibayan (MDiv ’12) is like a son to Adrien and me. He was our Marshall’s roommate while they were in seminary here. Later as a groomsman in Eric’s wedding, Marshall met his cousin, Faye, who in time became our precious daughter-in-law. Eric and his family, wife Reese, son Ari, daughter Zoe, and Mom and Dad, Ray and Yolanda, are all now family to us. Eric is the Lead Pastor of Christian Bible Fellowship in Covina, where he is shepherding his flock in the careful, expositional consideration of God’s word he learned at Bethlehem College & Seminary. How thrilling it was to hear him speak of God’s favor on his life and ministry, and of the substantial growth plans before his congregation.
Doug and Janet Grossman of Thousand Oaks I’m sure wouldn’t mind your knowing that they are the exceedingly well-satisfied parents of two Bethlehem College & Seminary daughters, including Kate who, Lord willing, will graduate in May. According to Mom and Dad, Kate’s God-given abilities in advocacy have been well-honed during her years at the school and have readied her for what seems to be a vocational trajectory in justice-seeking. The Grossman family has been a blessing to us in so many ways.
Then we worshipped on the second Sunday with Pastor Ben Collins (MDiv ’13, ThM ’15), his wife Erica, and son Keller in Grover Beach. After a season as a member of the undergraduate faculty here, Ben was called to plant a campus of Grace5Cities Church, San Luis Obispo. The so-called Five Cities of California were recently identified as the second “most never-churched population” in the U.S. The church is really thriving. The saints, under Ben’s shepherding, have set about capturing Grover Beach for Christ neighbor-by-neighbor. Their partnership with a local elementary school has proven to be a portal for engaging unbelievers in numbers.
Finally, when I first took this job, I sought to learn about all the people who had previously expressed generosity to Bethlehem College & Seminary. Among those was a man who had made a very large gift to the school about whom no one seemed to know more than that he was since deceased. Shortly thereafter, we starting receiving regular gifts from a woman in Oakland with his same last name. We didn’t have a phone number or e-mail, only a street address. So, before we made this trip I wrote to suggest a meeting. She called to express delight in the invitation, and we agreed to meet for lunch during our trip. She told the story of a young Minneapolis girl who came west on a mission trip in her youth, loved it there, and moved to California in 1968. Never married, she lives modestly and still works part time in a dental lab. She confirmed that it was her father, now with the Lord, who made the initial large gift to Bethlehem College & Seminary. Suspecting that he must have been some captain of Minnesota industry, I asked, “What did your Dad do?”
She replied, “He was a maintenance carpenter at one of the large hospitals.” He had been a faithful member at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and when the appeal was made to raise funds necessary to establishing the school, he went deep into all that God had given him to see this vision realized. She perpetuates his affection for what we’re doing here, and what God is doing in and through our graduates.
All that to say, God is using a wide variety of means to supply his work in the hearts of generous contributors, the lives of godly students, and the work of newly launched pastors and those whom they shepherd.
We’re so grateful to God that you have made the Serious Joy Scholarship part of your personal ministry for Jesus Christ. I am overjoyed to share this report of a flourishing garden of Christian Hedonism in just one, albeit very big, state.
Vice President of Advancement & Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce and Vocation
- Pray for the healing of our Palm Springs friends’ daughter and strength to endure for the gauntlet of treatment before her.
- Pray that Pastor J.D. Hettema will prosper in engaging church visitors, boarding new members, populating small groups, and mobilizing small groups at Foothill Church, also for wife Lauren and their two young children.
- Pray that God will guide Pastor Eric Tibayan and the saints of Christian Bible Fellowship as they deliberate on bold new growth plans.
- Pray for the Grossman family, that God will continue to use their love for him to prosper the Gospel in many directions from the nexus of their Christian household.
- Pray for Pastor Ben Collins and the work that GraceFiveCities is doing in advancing the Gospel by loving their neighbors in Grover Beach.
- Pray for our friend in Oakland, that her church will navigate a pastoral transition with ease and find renewal for their witness in a community not particularly friendly to the Christian faith.